Chemotherapy is commonly known as an anti-cancer medication and is a form of systemic treatment which utilizes drugs to kill cancer cells. The aim of chemotherapy is dependent on the type and stage of cancer, whether the cancer has spread in the body and the overall health of the person undergoing treatment.
Chemotherapy can be given as an isolated drug, comprising of multiple chemo drugs or in combination with other treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy, targeted therapy, hormonal therapy or immunotherapy. The necessity, type and duration of chemotherapy will be determined by the oncologist depending on the goal of treatment and tolerance of the chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is usually administered in cycles with breaks in between to allow the body to recover and have a period of rest. Occasionally, chemotherapy may be given prior to surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) for reasons such as tumor size reduction or to gauge tumor response profile. It can also be given after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to eradicate residual cancer post-surgery.
Chemotherapy toxicity is widely known to cause many side effects such as hair loss, nausea, vomiting, poor immunity, anemia, sexual issues and many others. This occurs due to the systemic nature of chemotherapy where normal body cells and normal organ function are implicated in the process of killing cancer cells. It is important to speak to your oncologist about managing chemotherapy side effects during treatment.
Your doctors will perform a series of investigations and examinations prior to the commencement of chemotherapy to ensure that you are fit and safe to undergo chemotherapy. A port-a-cath which is a device inserted in the chest and allows administration of the chemotherapy through the veins may be recommended for you if your veins have always been difficult to find and it is required for you to have the chemotherapy through your veins. During the chemotherapy, the medical team will closely monitor for any adverse effects and perform regular blood tests to ensure that your body is coping with the treatment.
Planning ahead for chemotherapy is important as you may not be able to cope with daily activities, household chores and work commitments that you used to be able to. Consider engaging family and friends to help with daily chores and make arrangements at work for a reduced workload especially during the first few days after each chemotherapy cycle. Do speak to your doctor to understand more about preparing for chemotherapy and to address any concerns you may have.